Indian Constitution for Dummies – Equality before Law and Equal Protection of Laws

Equality before Law and Equal Protection of Laws

The Constitution of India makes provision for fundamental rights which are basic rights that every person should enjoy. These rights include Right to Equality, Right to Life and Personal Liberty, Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Profession and Trade, Freedom of Association, Freedom of Assembly, Right to constitutional remedies and so on.

The phrases “Equality before law” and “equal protection of laws” are two phrases used in Article 14, which is the Right to Equality. Let’s analyze them.

Equality before Law

The phrase means that all are equal in the eyes of the law. No one is above the law. This concept is derived from the theory of Rule of Law. According to Rule of Law, a person can only be punished for violating a law which has been laid down and nothing else.

Equality before the law means there should be no discrimination of one person from another.  All should be treated equally irrespective of place of birth, gender, religion, race, caste, wealth, social status and so on.

For instance, both men and women have the right to work and bot the right to equal pay for equal work.

All persons who commit a particular crime are given the same punishment. There cannot be a distinction between a male criminal and a female one. Or a rich criminal and a poor one, if both have committed the same crime.

India is a hub of people from different walks of life. There are social inequalities and biases already that already exist in the country. Bias based on religion, caste, gender…. The Right to equality puts all persons on the same par. This right ensures everyone that the People in power will not discriminate between them. It gives an assurance that all will receive equal status and opportunities.

Equal Protection of Laws

The phrase “equal protection of laws” means that people in similar circumstances should be treated equally. Which also means, those who are not equal circumstances should not be treated equally.

For example, a poor man cannot be expected to pay the same income tax as a rich man. But persons with the same income bracket, being in similar circumstances, will pay the same tax.

All adults are equal and are punished equally. But a child who commits murder cannot be punished like an adult who commits the same crime. Since the adult and the child are not equal and should be treated unequally.

When persons in similar circumstances/equals are treated equally, and those in different circumstances/unequals are treated in an unequal manner, we strive to attain EQUITY, which is an objective much higher than equality.

Classification and Class Legislation

Absolute equality where everyone is treated in an identical manner amounts to turning a blind eye to the social and educational inequalities that already exist in the society. Right to equality does not mean that everyone is treated in an equal manner having no regard to their situations. In fact, if everyone is treated in an identical manner, it violates the right to equality. So, to find out which two groups should be treated unequally, a classification can be made. Any classification made should be made on a reasonable basis.

For example, a classification between a classification between teachers who are trained and others who are not. This classification is made to make applicable any monetary benefits on trained teachers. A classification of physically challenged persons and persons who are not physically handicapped which is made to confer certain rights on them.

Classification should not amount to a class legislation. Class legislation means a law that is applicable only to certain persons or class of persons. For example, if a law makes the classification based only on a class of persons who belong to a particular religion or race or gender will be unreasonable and violate the right to equality.

Reasonable Classification

The legislature can treat two sets of persons differently if their classification is made on a reasonable basis. A reasonable classification must be founded on intelligible differentia. Which means that persons or things that are grouped together make a well-defined, distinct class and can be distinguished from those that are left out of the group. Further, this basis of classification should have a rational nexus to the object sought to be achieved by the legislation in question.

For example, the maternity benefit law applies to working women on the way to maternity, not others. Because the object of the maternity benefit law is to give certain privileges only to women who become mothers at the time of their need. Hence, the classification of women and men is based on an intelligible differentia.

Another illustration is of tax laws. Classifications may be made for the purpose of taxing or not taxing certain classes of property. Charities, libraries are exempted from certain tax whereas other properties are not.

To conclude, let’s sum up.

  1. Equality before law means absence of discrimination
  2. Equal protection of laws means equal treatment of persons in equal circumstances.
  3. To attain equity, reasonable classification is permitted.
  4. Reasonable classification should not amount to class legislation.

Indian Constitution for Dummies – The Preamble

A preamble is a preface or an introduction. The preamble to the Indian Constitution and is considered to be the most finely worded preamble.

The constitution of India is a big book which explains the structure of the Indian state, rights of the people, directives principles for the state, rights, liabilities and powers of the government… it basically is very lengthy and principled.

Let’s have a look at what it states.

It starts with the words We the people of India and ends with “adopt, enact and give to ourselves this constitution”. These words declare the ultimate sovereignty of the people of India. The preamble tells you that the Constitution is made by the people of India through their representatives. These representatives were collectively known as the Constituent Assembly.

It tells you the day on which the Constitution was adopted that is 26th November 1949. The republic day i.e. 26th January 1950 is the day on which the Constitution actually came into force.

The preamble narrates the Constitutional philosophy and principles in a gist. The preamble describes the nature of the Indian State and indicates the objectives the Constitution of India wishes to achieve. Sovereign, socialist, secular and democratic republic are the nature of the state or Government of India. Justice, liberty, equality, fraternity are the objectives.

Nature of the Indian State:

India is a Sovereign Nation. Sovereign means that it is an independent authority and is not controlled by any foreign power. It is free from any external control. It may be a member of organizations such as the commonwealth or United nations but that does not in any way affect its sovereignty.

India is a Socialist Nation. The word Socialist, as in it looks towards the establishment of socialism in the country. The word ‘Socialism’, implies “social ownership and democratic control of the means of production.” The word can be better understood when explained as an opposite of capitalism. In a capitalist economy, the country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit. Whereas in a socialist economy the trade and industry is controlled by the state. India is not a strictly
socialist economy. We have a blend of socialism and capitalism in the country and is a mixed economy.

India is a Secular Nation.The word secular means that the state protects all religions equally. The Indian State does not have uphold any specific religion nor does it have any official religion. The concept of secularism in the United States of America is a negative one, where the government does not interfere at all in religious affairs. The concept of secularism in India is a positive one, where all religions are treated equally. In a country like India, where there are numerous faiths, unity and fraternity can only be achieved through a secular state.

Democratic republic: Democracy is a form of government which is elected by the people of the country. So the ultimate power lies with the people. The word republic means that all power vests in the person that people chose and not in a hereditary king or queen.

These are the objectives that the Constitution seeks to achieve.

Justice: Political Justice is mainly concerned about giving equal opportunity for all in the political sphere. Equal opportunity to elect and contest.

Economic Justice means equal distribution of the national wealth. It means that economic exploitation should be ended.

Social Justice is a fundamental right. It means that all social discriminations such as the caste system, untouchability, gender discrimination must be ended.

Liberty: A citizen should be allowed to think and express his opinions freely. He or she has a right to express his opinion through words, art, peaceful demonstrations and so on. He may speak freely for or against the government. He or she has the liberty to move freely throughout the country. He or she should also be allowed to freely practice his faith and worship any God or no God. Democracy is hollow without the freedom of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship.

Equality: All are equal in the eyes of law. A man, woman or child. A Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Jain, or a person from any other religion. A Kashmiri, Keralite, Gujrathi, Rajasthani, Bengali or a Goan. All are equal in status irrespective of their religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth. And the state must ensure an equal opportunity for all.

Fraternity: literally means brotherhood. It is the objective of the constitution to generate a feeling of
brotherhood among all sections of the people. This is not independent of the earlier objectives. Only when the objectives of justice, liberty and equality are ensured to the people of India, the objective of fraternity will be realized.